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Indybay Feature

Watzreal Satisfies with “Dark Album: Remaster,” an Underground San Francisco Rap Gem

by Cassidy Kakin
On the remastered re-release of his gem “The Dark Album,” San Francisco’s Watzreal adds a handful of can’t miss tracks and a true underground hit of an album.
It’s easier often times to write music about party moments, highs, and the thrills of the lifestyle than it is to get real and dive into the darkness that we all carry. Even with hip-hop finding more room for vulnerability and authentic storytelling in recent years, there’s a host of lasting tropes and biases that make it difficult for artists to really unpack depression, loss, and deep sadness. On “The Dark Album: Deluxe” Watzreal makes the brave choice to center an entire project around darkness in the many forms it takes in our human psyche; in bold lyrics and slick flows, Watzreal tackles subjects like depression, addiction, avoidance, and the struggle he’s undergone to create and thrive with so much darkness in the world.

On “Hello Darkness” Watzreal kicks the album off with an echoing sample before a super soulful drop, finally finding his voice on the track to “get the show started.” As soon as Watzreal gets into rapping, it’s immediately clear this project contains some of his most self reflective writing. He touches on topics as wide as Covid and electoral politics, but centers it all in his experience. “All I really know is good love’s a target” Watzreal reflects in a moment of poignancy, which are scattered through each verse of “Hello Darkness.” Thematically, the track sets the album up in a few key ways; sonically it’s all Golden Era soul so far, content wise the writing is funny and lyrically explorative but also largely dark and self-reflective, and over all the album starts off striking as one that’ll need a lot of re-listens.

https://instagram.com/watzrealthehapa?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

The projects’ third track “Dark Days” is another standout, enlisting the help of collaborators Def-I and Casti. The veteran New Mexico based artist Def-I brings his signature wandering chopper flow to the track, and gets real about the state of police repression, painting lyrics that center a personal story of triumph. Not to be outdone in the realm of tasteful political reflections, Watzreal raps:

“Wanna be peaceful like ghandi, but we lost Breonna Taylor and still have Neo Nazis”

The track is full of punch lines by all inlvolved, but the overall tone of the piece adds another layer to the “The Dark Album’s” churning politicality. Each emcee draws from personal inspiration as is the Golden Era standard, but many of their hard hitting bars are deeply political in their observations. And it’s interesting content to reflect with; the ghettos and street corners that Def-I came to know growing up in New Mexico and touring the American Southwest couldn’t be more poetically disparate from the San Francisco Bay Area where Watzreal bases his writing roots.

Starting with the project’s takeaway hit “Dark Matter,” Danae Labrana lends her beautiful vocals to the cuts. Her support of Watzreal continues on later standout singles “Gaurded” and “Goodbye,” adding irresistible melodic style to each. On “Goodbye,” when the regular edition of “The Dark Album” was winding to a close, Labrana croons “Feels so fine / nobody stopping this life of mine. And the tracks’ anthematic sonics and optimistic feel fit in much better on “The Dark Album: Remaster” with more music on the way. This cut made a fitting album ending before, but Watzreal’s adlibs about going out in a bang fits thematically to frame the next few bonus tracks.

https://youtu.be/GnxG3Er2ssM

“Kanye loves Kanye” is a bouncy lyrical triumph, with a beat that Watzreal points out as being “real special.” Tons of punchlines ring throughout, and Watzreal brings in familiar metaphors but from a whole new “Kanye” inspired perspective. “I’m your love below like my name was Andre” Watzreal raps on the hook in a comfortable brag and reference to the legendary OutKast MC and frequent Kanye collaborator/influence. Bar by bar you can find something fun here, and the bouncy melodic groove that Watzreal creates throughout the track gives it a ton of replay value in addition to the lyrics that you’ll want to rewind and dig through.

https://youtu.be/2R2LkZvy0tw

On “Running from Nothing,” Dark Days (Remix,) and “Goodbye to…” Watzreal closes out the album masterfully, with three nuggets that make the “Dark Album: Remaster” stand heads over the original. It’d be easy to just throw a few previous cuts on and call it a re-release, but each of Watzreal’s new offerings on this edition carry their own weight and add something thematically to the project as a whole. “Kanye loves Kanye” is especially worth revisiting, but each of the album’s bonus tracks bear their own charms and add depth and color to the original release.

Overall Impressions

A true gem from the San Francisco underground rap scene, “The Dark Album: Remaster” stands alone as a strong release from SF Bay Area Veteran Watzreal. Lovers of traditional boomd-bap will find a lot of quality here, with golden era samples and poignant flows throughout. Watzreal flexes his acumen as a writer countless times, with tons of bars that hit as punchlines and lend themselves to replays. And melodically, the album has tons of highlights, partially thanks to the cast of collaborators Watzreal pulls together and partially due to the emcees own melodic ear for what’s catchy. This album will leave fans satisfied and leave new listeners hungry for more from the San Francisco area rapper and activist.

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